Only a Ferrari looks like a Ferrari.
Never will this be more apparent than at a special exhibit in Italy this month.
If you don’t happen to be traveling in Italy, you must go to the site and look at the photos online to get some idea of how special a relationship the one is between Ferrari and Pininfarina, the famous Italian design firm.
From the very beginning, the outstanding performance of Ferrari automobiles has always been matched by equally outstanding coach and design work. Every Ferrari, from F1 cars to racing prototypes to production cars, has always been distinctive. And no one has had a greater impact on the Ferrari image and brand than the firm of Pininfarina, whose history with Ferrari dates back to the 1950s and the very beginning of road car production for Ferrari SpA. Three generations of the Pininfarina family have managed, built, and developed the design firm Pininfarina and their influence on Ferrari—even in today’s world where the Ferrari Design Center exists in-house to provide an additional voice in the overall design vocabulary of Ferrari automobiles—has been incalculable.
… on the hood of a car parked the side of the highway, Ferrari and Pininfarina spread out their documents, had an obviously very good talk, and the most famous and productive design collaboration in the history of the automobile was born. That is the legend and –true or not—the results of the partnership have been legendary.
One very important era in Ferrari’s design history was closed in 2011 when Sergio Pininfarina, the head of legendary Italian Design firm Pininfarina, died on Tuesday, July 2nd at the age of 85. Born Sergio Farina on 8 September 1926 in Turin, Italy, he was educated at Turin Polytechnic where he earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Sergio Pininfarina was the son of Battista “Pinin” Farina, a designer already ready famed in Italy as the head of Carozzeria Pininfarina (his firm designed the beautiful Cisitalia 202 , an automobile so advanced for it’s time that it’s a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York) and one about whom many legends have grown. Battista Farina was the tenth of eleven children and was given the nickname “Pinin”, which translates very roughly to youngest or smallest brother.
The name stuck as Battista became older and he eventually and officially changed the family’s last name to “Pininfarina” in 1961 ( a move accomplished by Presidential Decree) as his reputation and that of his design firm grew. For the detail oriented, the name change explains why the famous crest for the design company is capped with an “F” and not with a “P”.
One of the greatest legends surrounding Pininfarina concerns the story of the beginning of the relationship between Ferrari, the man and the car company, and Pininfarina, the man and the design firm.
It is said that Ferrari, whose headquarters are in Maranello, called up Battista Pininfarina, headquarted in Turin, and asked him to come to the factory to discuss designing a car for Ferrari. Battista Pininfarina declined to make the trip and instead requested that Ferrari come to visit him—his firm was, after all, senior in terms of longevity to Ferrari. After many back and forth exchanges—with precisely the same result as neither one would agree to visit the other—they reached a compromise, and met instead on the highway, halfway between Turin and Maranello. There, on the hood of a car, they spread out their documents, had an obviously very good talk, and the most famous and productive design collaboration in the history of the automobile was born. That is the legend and –true or not—the results of the partnership have been legendary.
The relationship between Pininfarina, the design firm, and Ferrari, the automobile manufacturer survive to this day. Stop into any Ferrari showroom in the world and take a look at the current lineup—458 Spider, California, FF, the just-out-of-production 599 and the just-coming-into-production F12. These are all cars designed by the Pininfarina design firm and they are breathtaking both for their current beauty and the iconic design characteristics that echo a very fine line of excellence that started six generations ago.
The egg crate grill, the simple, round tail lights, the windshield rake, the sensation of tangible motion that stretches from the front of the car to the back—these are the hallmarks of Pininfarina design. From the side, the designs are deceptively minimal. It is quite possible to do a very simple line drawing of the form of a Pininfarina Ferrari and, without showing the logo, most people would know the car instantly as a Ferrari. But the wholeness of the design, the apparent streamlining of design to a minimal point, is deceptive: the cars have multiple planes and curves and compound curves. You never really know what a Ferrari looks like until you see it in person, because two dimensional photography can’t capture the full impact of three dimensional mass.
Sergio Pininfarina became the Managing Director of the family firm in 1961 and took over as President in 1966, the year his father died. One of his first duties was to handle the burgeoning Ferrari design account—not a job for a man with bad nerves and a lack of diplomacy. But Sergio had both excellent nerves and a superb sense of how business relationships should work, along with a set of excellent design gifts—taste, innovation, flair, minimalism—and the partnership grew and flourished to the point that Pininfarina, although a separate company, basically served as the internal design firm for Ferrari. During the sixties and seventies, Pininfarina produced some of the most beautiful and now valuable Ferrari designs of all time.
A great creative artist cannot exist without a great client—this tradition goes back to the aristocratic and titled patrons and Popes of centuries ago who kept the Renaissance’s great artists in rent money by commissioning portraits and sculptures and frescos—and in Ferrari, Pininfarina, man and firm, found their canvas. Enzo Ferrari, who was fearless in his pursuit of excellence on the track was equally fearless in his pursuit of beautiful design. He pushed, they pushed back, and great work rolled out of Maranello and onto the highways and autostradas of the world. It was and is one of the world’s greatest win-win relationships.
That era produced a all-star lineup of great designs, an output of such aesthetic quality as to stun both the competition and the automotive world.
The 410 SuperAmerica; the clean, precise, 250GTE (a car now coming into its own for the purity of its design); the Ferrari 275 Series (GTS, GTB, and the one that makes grown men weep, the 257GTB/4); the beautiful, agile, quick little Ferrari Dino 206 (the car that foreshadowed the current generation of Ferrari mid-engine eight cylinder models); the elegant, massively desirable Ferrari 250 GT California; the brutally powerful Ferrari 365GTB/4 (also called The Daytona, named to celebrate Ferrari’s 1-2-3 Finish at the 24 Hours of Daytona in February 1967), which with it’s very long nose and very short tail (which was all most people saw when it blew past)was an instant classic; the Daytona’s moderately more civilized brother, the classic 365GTC/4; the mid-engine 12 Cylinder Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer, which was followed by the breathtakingly fast and sensuous Ferrari Testarossa, the car that launched a million posters; the perfectly balanced Ferrari 328: the Ferrari 288GTO, one of the four (soon to be five) modern supercars from Ferrari (288GTO, F40, F50, Enzo) designed by Pininfarina and the lovely, very sweet handling Ferrari 550 Barchetta (and it’s cousins, the 550/575 Maranello) and on and on, up to today’s Ferrari lineup. In each case the design lived up to the performance of the car and vice versa, always the perfect balance between aesthetics and mechanical potential.
The firm Pininfarina also designed for other automobile manufacturers, producing the very notable Alfa 164 and the 1975 Rolls-Royce Camargue, the 1996 Bentley Azure, the current Volvo C70, and show cars like the stunning, beautiful, white Maserati Birdcage 75th Anniversary model and James Glickenhouse’s rather spectacular Ferrari P4/P5 one-off. Their work for other manufacturers was well received, with the Pininfarina-designed Peugeot 504 named European Car of the Year in 1969. Over time, much of the firm’s auto design work was for clients in Asia and the Far East as the market shifted and with the market shift, the money for design moved East as well. Most recently, the firm designed the wickedly curvy Maserati Gran Turismo and GranCabrio softtop convertible models for the Maserati Division of Fiat, each of them a modern a classic.
Despite the wide range of the Pininfarina design vocabulary, each of these models shares a beautiful brand simplicity so correct that one asks this question: “How could it be any other way?”
Pininfarina was not the only design firm Ferrari worked with; the factory used Sergio Scaglietti, primarily for racing car bodies and early on employed the design firms of Ghia, Vignale, Touring, and Bertone. All worked on various design projects for Ferrari but over time, Pininfarina’s fine sense of design seem to mesh best with Ferrari’s aesthetic and performance goals for commercial products and the company became virtually the in-house design department for Ferrari. Pininfarina, man and firm, understood and became keepers of the aesthetic brand.
In true Italian tradition, Sergio Pininfarina, knowing what was at stake, checked every design, every model, every prototype, every production drawing. He was a micro-manager before there was such a term. One of the key skills of the creative process is editing, and he was the ultimate editor of his firm’s output. Also, he knew well that designing for the moment was a lost cause, and so Ferrari designs have always been forward leaning, pushing out the envelope. To make an automobile design “timeless”, you must look into the future and design for a place on the horizon. Pininfarina always seemed to be able to accomplish this task, a fact driven home by the attraction that even forty year old Ferraris have on us today.
Sergio Pininfarina pushed the company forward not just in terms of design, but design process: under his guidance, they were one of the first big firms to used computers for design and one of the first to use digital measuring of the automobile bodies they designed. Sensing the future trends in automobile design, the firm opened the first full-size wind tunnel in Italy for advanced aerodynamic research in 1972. His life outside of the design world was just as impressive: Sergio Pininfarina served as head of Italy’s industrial employers’ confederation, Confindustria, from 1988 to 1992 and was made a Life Senator of Italy in 2005. In every respect, his was a life well-lived, notable not only for the beautiful automobiles and projects he produced, but the grace with which he delivered his work.
These are not the best of times for Italian design firms. It’s a difficult environment in the automobile industry today, even at the top of the food chain, and design studios like Pininfarina need a lot of headroom to operate, a very polite way of saying that great creative groups are just as expensive to operate as any manufacturing enterprise. Bertone had to auction off some of its’ most famous designs (including the wild and beautiful 1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero) when it was pushed into bankruptcy and another famous firm, Italdesign Giugiaro (designer of the original Golf and the Maserati MC12, among others) sold a 90.1 % interest to Volkswagen Group in May of 2010.
To increase the firm’s profit opportunities in the past, Pininfarina, like many relatively small design firms, operated a limited production factory capable of producing short run models for clients. These operations were based around the early and mid-century automobile design practice of a client ordering a chassis from a manufacturer (i.e. Ferrari) and then hiring a design firm to do the body and interior. Over time, the design firms began to actually produce and fit the body to the chassis and then the firms determined that the ability to do short run productions of highly specialized body designs could become a major profit center. Large automobile companies were configured for production efficiency at high outputs, so they would turn to a small firm to do the production of short run bodies and final assembly for limited production models. Pininfarina provided precisely these services for Cadillac, for example, with the design, production, and partial assembly of the Cadillac Allante, among other models.
At the turn of the 21st century, Pininfarina was producing 50,000 units a year of different models for different manufacturers in three separate small-run factories. But it is expensive to maintain a factory and workforce—especially in Italy—and when the world economy took a dip, and manufacturers learned how to use modern computer biased production techniques to handle short run needs, the manufacturing side of the design-build business dropped dramatically but the costs associated with maintaining such a capability did not and Pininfarina found itself fighting for its life. The company pulled out of manufacturing and instead concentrated on design and engineering where it had a definitive strategic advantage.
The resulting financial restructuring, recently completed, handed control of the firm to outside firms, with the Pininfarina family maintaining a small percentage. At the time the restructuring started, there were three Pininfarinas running the firm: Sergio, Andrea, and Paulo. Two of them, Sergio and Andrea are now gone, with Andrea killed in a scooter accident in 2008 at age 51. Paulo Pininfarina, a superb designer himself, is now Chairman of the firm. The future is no less challenging for Pininfarina than for Ferrari itself.
Under the direction of Paolo, the company has attempted to expand its’ long-standing industrial-design department. It has shown a wide variety of concept cars, but also exhibited other sorts of products, from furniture to yachts to Lavazza espresso makers. A show of that work was displayed last summer at the Italian Cultural Institute in London.
Over time, the early great and creative people associated with the birth and growth of Ferrari are leaving the arena, through retirement or death. Enzo has been gone since 1988 and many of his right hand people have since left the factory through retirement (although, as one knows, you never really leave Ferrari), which is a far larger enterprise now than even Enzo himself could imagine. Last year, Sergio Scaglietti famous for the 250TR and the 250GTO, died on November 20, 2011. With Sergio Pininfarina now gone, the group that started and built the legend we now know as Ferrari is passing. Their work will live forever as beautiful examples of no-compromise automobile design; the standards they set, the passion they infused, now continue with the next generation entrusted with moving Ferrari forward. And when we look at the 458 and the new F12, it is apparent that the heritage has been passed, unimpeded and unencumbered, to a new generation worthy of carrying on one of the world’s great legacies.